November 15, 2010 – Concert by Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and Sri Abhishek Raghuram

The 85th Birthday “Festival of Love” of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba began on a holy and auspicious note on November 15 with a gentle sprinkle of sanctifying rain from early evening. Even as the Sai Organisation planned to start a week long celebrations leading to the D-day, it was as if Nature too in her own way participated in it. The whole atmosphere smelt fresh and felt cool. There were two concerts scheduled for the day.

The first was to be by Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and his two sons, Ayaan and Amaan. The Ustad is the world’s greatest sarod artist who has won many national and international awards including the Padmashree, the Padma Bhushan, the Tansen Award and the International Music Forum Award. A sixth generation sarod player he gave his first concert at the age of six and his first solo recital at twelve. He has been a devotee for many years and had the chance of offering his music to the Lord on many previous occasions including during the 80th Birthday celebrations in 2005.

The second one scheduled was by Sri Abhishek Raghuram. He is a promising young carnatic vocalist. Coming from a family which has music deeply embedded in their genes, the 25-year old Abhishek Raghuram is the grandson of Sangeetha Kalanidhi Shri Palakkad Raghu, the eminent mridangam maestro. Abhishek is also an expert mridangam and kanjira artist having given public performances when he was just nine years old.

The Veda chanting began at 4:30 p.m. The Sai Kulwant Hall and Swami’s Residence wore a vesture of lights and flowers and there was joy and devotion everywhere in the air. Banners heralding the 85th year of Advent fluttered in the hall and it was at about 6:45 p.m. that Swami arrived for darshan as the bhajan singing went on. Giant LED screens and televisions ensured that everyone in the hall would have a close darshan.

Swami gently glided down the ladies side. It was such a wonderful sight. Everyone in the hall was excited as the “Birthday season” had begun. But Swami was His usual self! Smiling and gifting away a few vibhuti packets to the deserving Swami moved towards the centre of the hall. He took a complete round and as He entered the portico, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and his two sons rose reverentially with roses in their hands and bowed to Him. Swami accepted the flowers and blessed them. He asked, “You are performing today?” They nodded and Swami gave them padanamaskar.

Swami then arrived on the brightly lit and beautifully decorated stage. He took His seat on the western end of the stage towards the ladies’ side as the rest of the stage had been readied with mikes for the artists. The State President of Delhi, Sri Jatinder Cheema sought Swami’s blessings before introducing the performers for the evening. Once the announcement was complete, the Ustad and his sons took their place on the stage near Swami’s feet. With a prayerful submission, they began their concert.

The first piece was in the raag Shivaranjini. It started with mellow plucking of the strings but gradually gathered momentum and weight. It was a musical feast for the ears and Swami also seemed to be enjoying it. For a while, Swami also read through the letters that He had collected during the rounds. The main performance by the trio came next.

It was in the Raag Desh. It started and soon developed into a furious pace. The trio were ably accompanied on the tabla which matched their pace and intensity. The way they built up the piece had the whole audience clapping in sheer joy and delight. And seeing the Ustad’s face, there was not even the slightest strain on it. A happy smile danced always and that added to the concert. The eyes too were enjoying along with the ears. Once the concert concluded, Swami called all the three to Him and blessed them by placing shawls over them. Everyone applauded as the artists bowed and took padanamaskar. He also blessed them with a picture-clock bearing a beautiful photo of Him in a white robe. Soon, it was the turn of the next artist to come on stage.

It was 7:45 p.m. as Sri Abhishek Raghuram came and fell prostrate at Swami’s feet. Like a child conversing with the Father, he sought Swami’s blessings. After a few minutes of tuning the instruments, he began with a Thyagaraja kirtan set in the raag Vasanta Bhairavi. The song, “Nee Daya Raada” is a cry for the Lord’s mercy and it was masterfully rendered. The variations of pitch and the quick gamakas that the artist seemed to sing with ease had the audience spellbound.

Even as the song progressed, he moved from spellbinding everyone to mesmerising all. The song built into a crescendo before concluding with a bang and a big round of applause. Swami asked whether he would sing one more and Abhishek agreed happily. He started a song in Telugu on Lord Krishna and Swami seemed moved immediately. The melody, love and devotion in the song seemed to touch everyone. It was so beautiful, that even as he concluded, Swami waved His right hand to materialize a gold chain.

He called the artist and was unlocking the chain so that He could put it around the neck. As the student beside Swami offered to help, Swami refused and said that He would manage. This otherwise unseen scene was witnessed by all on the large screen and a murmur of laughter traveled through the audience. Soon, Swami had ‘chained’ yet another heart to His feet! Swami said, “For big people I gave shawls. Not for boys!” It was such a sweet and spontaneous statement and Swami smiled.

He gifted the picture clocks to all of the artists and then beckoned for aarthi. By 8:20 p.m., aarthi concluded and Swami blessed sweets to be distributed to all as Prasadam. Just before leaving from the stage, Swami showered the Akshatha grains that had nestled in His lap all the while. Even as He did that, a smile danced in His eyes as an eager gleam arose in the eyes of all the students who were seated in the front.

Swami moved to the portico and there He was surrounded by the artists. The Ustad sought blessings for the whole family and the marriage of his elder son! Swami smiled and blessed all of them. He draped another grand red shawl around the Ustad saying, “It is very cold. This will be useful.” That drew smiles on the faces of all those who heard it. In the meanwhile, even Abhishek came forward and sought Swami’s blessings. With a smile, Swami patted him on his cheeks and blessed him. It was 8:30 p.m. when Swami moved back towards the Residence.

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